Dec. 24, 2001 Beer-Sheva, December 13, 2001 - Ben-Gurion University researchers have achieved a significant increase in the life span of fruit flies by adding small quantities of an experimental material to the flies' diet. The substance, known as ATA, also enabled the insects to better withstand stresses produced by exposure to a low-oxygen atmosphere, high temperature or X-ray irradiation.
A report on these findings was presented this summer at the 17th World Congress of Gerontology held in Vancouver, Canada. The study was carried out by Dr. Vadim Fraifeld of BGU's Department of Clinical Pharmacology in collaboration with a research group studying experimental life prolongation at the Institute of Gerontology in Kiev.
The BGU-Kiev investigators became interested in ATA (aurintricarboxylic acid) because of its protective effects on normal cells growing in test tube conditions. Cultures of normal cells containing ATA in the nutrient media are more stable and longer lived then parallel cultures without it. ATA also prevents apoptosis, a genetically programmed self-annihilation of cells that occurs in humans and animals following stress, injury or disease.
It is largely believed today that multiple exposure to stress, resulting in accumulated damage to cells, may accelerate the aging process. The researchers therefore chose to examine whether the protection afforded by ATA to cultured cells would similarly protect complex living organisms such as Drosophila fruit flies and extend their longevity.
The BGU-Kiev scientists found that long-term treatment with ATA indeed extended the mean life span of fruit flies by 15 percent. In other experiments, they treated the insects with the protective compound for a week before exposing them to stresses that are known to kill large numbers of flies. In the group receiving ATA, many more flies survived than in the control group. It is now planned to extend this research and study the longevity of mice receiving ATA in their water.
Although ATA was shown to extend the average life span of flies, the researchers were concerned about possible negative side effects of the protective material. Perhaps the reduction of apoptosis might also protect malignant cells from their own self-destruction, one of the ways the body uses to rid itself of abnormal cells. Unexpectedly, the researchers found that ATA actually suppresses the growth of certain human tumor cells grown in culture.
The observation of tumor cell suppression by ATA, together with its protective effect on normal cells, has interesting implications for possible use of ATA or a similar compound as an adjunct to overcome the stresses of chemo- or radiotherapy. Studies in mice will be essential for clarifying these issues.
"While we have hopeful results with Drosophila," says Fraifeld, "ATA should not be considered a miraculous elixir of life. In particular, the long-term toxicity of ATA in higher animals has not been studied in detail and it is not entirely harmless when consumed in large quantities. However, it would certainly be worth while examining whether the protective material could be useful for certain medical applications. But these are still many years off."
This project is carried out under the auspices of the BGU Center for Multidisciplinary Research in Aging.
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